Ateneo Fine Arts scores big at the Asia-Pacific Theater Schools Festival
Ateneo Fine Arts entry My Friend Has Come wins accolades; Professor Ricky Abad elected APB Vice-President
My Friend Has Come, a Filipino-Japanese intercultural production about the sweetness and pain of connecting with another human being, won critical acclaim at the recently concluded Asia-Pacific Bond (APB) of Theater Schools Festival held at the National School of Drama in New Delhi on October 19-26, 2016. The production, directed by Ricardo Abad with music composed and played by Hiroko Nagai, was this year’s festival entry of the Department of Fine Arts, a member school since 2007.
My Friend Has Come, produced by Ikarus Productions, was initially shown at DITO: Bahay ng Sining in Marikina in September 2014 before it was re-staged at the Ateneo in July 2015. Written by Japanese playwright Suzue Toshiro, the play focuses on two friends, one living and one dead, who struggle to re-establish a bond left unfulfilled since their high school days. The process of bonding proves to be onerous: the living friend, remaining in the real world, cannot conceive of a friendship with a non-living person while the dead friend has great difficulty expressing the real reason why he came to revisit his high school pal. How they overcome these obstacles is the narrative line of the play. Written with spare lines that are rich in symbolisms and framed in a non-linear structure, the play is a challenge for actors who must draw tremendous inner resources to convey the emotional power of the text.
Local critics gave the production high praise and the Aliw Awards named it a finalist for Best Non-Musical Production and Best Acting Ensemble in 2015.
The raves continued in New Delhi. The two actors, Sky Abundo and Miguel Almendras, both Tanghalang Ateneo-bred, were admired for their sensitivity and physicality. Most lauded, however, was the seamless fusing of performance and production. Not one element of the performance dominated the show. Instead, the acting was organically aligned to the live koto music (played by Hiroko Nagai and Harold Santos), the lights (designed by Daniel Cortezano) and the sounds (designed by Reamur David). Taken together, these elements yielded a highly thoughtful and moving experience for the international audience.
The production, said one Indian director, was “simple in appearance but deep in its emotional impact. The set and lines may have been spare and the lighting design virtually colorless, but the total effect, ably supported by the scintillating koto music and the punctuation of sound effects, was mesmerizing to the audience. “You are drawn to the play little by little,” commented one student, “and as you get through the final scenes, the ideas of the play start to connect until you are drawn to the final revelations between the two friends.” “I went to my room after the play and cried,” admitted another student whose best friend died recently.
Koto and Philippine music received special attention in two workshops held before and after the performance. Hiroko Nagai and Harold Santos took turns giving a lecture-demonstrations on the koto and traditional Filipino music. Well-liked by the workshop participants was a hands-on experience on Cordillera rhythmic patterns using drums provided by the National School of Drama. This workshop was among a dozen others given by experts from different schools. The workshop topics ranged from improvisations to Sufi music, classical Indian singing and Malaysian traditional forms.
Meanwhile, the directors of theater schools comprising the policy and decision-making group of the APB elected its officers for the next two years. Elected President was Dr. Wahman Kendre, Director of the National School of Drama, the host of this year’s festival, while Dr. Ricardo Abad of the Ateneo de Manila University was named Vice-President.
Chosen as Director of the Secretariat was Dr. Gong Barong of the Shanghai Theater Academy. All three officers will spearhead APB activities that will lead to the 2017 Festival in Shanghai, China and the 2018 Festival in Jogjakarta, Indonesia. They will be supported by an Advisory Board consisting of representatives from Malaysia, Singapore, and Tehran. More theater collaborations between schools top the list of APB priorities in the coming years.
The participation of Ateneo Fine Arts in the 2016 APB Festival received support from the Japan Foundation and a Loyola Schools Internalization Grant from the Office of University and Global Relations, Ateneo de Manila University.
Photos courtesy of Reamur David, Christine Chung, Irwin Arenas, and Yuriko Hyodo